Most of us learned about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in grammar school and remember a few key details. But one fact we might not remember is the exact species that helped solidify Darwin’s theory.
Not sure? It was the Galapagos finch. The finch is a species of small bird that’s distributed widely across the islands of the Galapagos, but this little bird had big implications for Charles Darwin’s theory.
During Darwin’s travels around the Galapagos Islands, the famed naturalist identified a species of finch that had adapted from island to island. The finches were all similar in size, color and shape. Yet, from island to island, the species had distinctive mutations – primarily in beak size/shape. In other words, one single species had evolved into several unique subspecies.
Today, the Darwin finches of the Galapagos are a must-see attraction for naturalists and adventurers visiting the islands. Want to see the finches on your yacht charter in the Galapagos? Here’s everything you need to know about Darwin’s finches.
Why Did Darwin’s Finches Adapt?
The finches played an integral role in Darwin’s theory of evolution, and that’s because they helped illustrate the principles of natural selection.
Natural selection is the process by which animals that are best adapted to their environment tend to survive and thrive, e.g. survival of the fittest. In the case of Darwin’s finches, the subspecies all evolved from a single species, the Blue-Black Grassquit Finch, which is native to the coasts of South America. That’s why all of the finches are similar in size, color and habitat.
But there’s one key difference amongst subspecies: The finches have different beak sizes and shapes.
Why is that so important? The finches evolved to the available food sources on each island. For example, the Ground Finch, which is native to 10 islands, has a crushing beak, as its primary food source is hard seeds. The Cactus Finch, on the other hand, has a probing beak, which allows the bird to reach insects that burrow inside of cacti. Ultimately, over generations, several unique subspecies evolved, and today there 14 species of Darwin finch.
Fast Facts about Darwin’s Finches
The first finches arrived in the Galapagos nearly 2-3 million years ago, straying from the coasts of South and Central America. The finch has evolved, thusly, over millions of years, and today, there are a wide variety of species. Here are some interesting facts:
- Number of Species: There are 14 species of Darwin finch, 13 of which are native the Galapagos. One finch isn’t native to the Galapagos, but rather to Cocos Island, a nearby island of Costa Rica.
- Most Abundant Species: The Medium Ground Finch is endemic to 10 islands in the Galapagos, and has the largest population of all the finches.
- Rarest Species: The Mangrove finch is the most threatened Galapagos finch, and one of the most difficult to see. The species’ range is a small area on Isabella Island.
- Types of Beaks: There are six beak variations, which are due to the finches’ diets. The seed and fruit eaters have parrot-like beaks, while the grub and insect eaters have longer probing beaks. One species, the Woodpecker Finch, even uses twigs as tools to reach food, and is sometimes called the tool-using finch.
- Continuing Adaptation: The finches continue to evolve and adapt. For example, in the 1970s, a severe drought reduced the number of small seeds across the islands. As such, the Medium Ground Finch’s beak has gotten 10% larger over several generations.
Where to See Darwin’s Finches
A trip to the Galapagos wouldn’t be complete without a birding hike or two. To find each species, you’ll have to know where to look, as some have very specific ranges. The Medium Tree Finch, for example, is native to Floreana, while the Cactus Finch can only be found on Espanola and Genovesa. Some of the best bird-viewing locations on the islands include:
- Charles Darwin Research Station – Located on Santa Cruz Island, the research station is one of the most visited in all of the islands. The station offers numerous trails to hike, where you can see a variety of finch species.
- Genovesa Island – Sometimes called “bird island,” Genovesa is home to an abundance flying creatures. In terms of finches, this is the best spot to see the Cactus Finch, as well as red-footed boobies and several species of hawk.
- Isabella Island – The largest island in the Galapagos, Isabella is well known for its biodiversity. Almost 10 different types of finch call the island home. Stop in Puerto Villamil, a beautiful coastal hub, where you’ll find many bird-viewing tours and reserves.
- Rabida Island – There are nine species on this island, which is known for its striking red sand. The beaches are also known for their flamingo and penguin populations.
Set sail on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in the Galapagos. Book a private Galapagos yacht charter! Talk to a broker with Worldwide Boat today to learn more about our amazing itineraries and yachts for hire in the region.